I remember seeing the faces of missing children on a milk carton when I was a kid. Even now I scan the photos of lost children displayed at Walmart. The pictures are often school pictures of smiling children, their fate and their families’ torment hidden behind their toothy grins. My son’s picture should be there among them. He was stolen from me. His life, his future, his memories, all taken as he lay in his college dorm room. The gentle young man I raised and loved was taken from me when the dark fingers of paranoid schizophrenia enveloped his beautiful mind.
We still don’t understand what happened to him. We are just dealing with the aftermath. They say hind sight is 20/20. That’s not true in our case. It’s still blurry. It’s been several years since I first sat in the conference room of a hospital for the mentally ill and heard the doctor say… “We believe your son has paranoid schizophrenia”. My son was sitting there beside me. He seemed depressed, but schizophrenia was a terrifying word. I left the hospital in shock and began the endless hours of internet searches. Searches that left me even more confused. He didn’t exhibit the typical symptoms. He didn’t hear voices or see imaginary people. He had broken up with a girlfriend and seemed extremely depressed. It didn’t make sense. The following day I returned to the hospital only to find the medications they had given him had him frantically pacing the room like a wild animal, his wide eyes tormented. When he sat beside me, his hand constantly beat the chair and legs shook uncontrollably. He was disconnected, and I knew in that moment tragedy had struck our family and we were entering a world we knew nothing about.
The doctors said finding the right concoction of medications took time. We waited for an improvement. After a couple of weeks of watching his condition deteriorate, my ex-husband and I knew we wanted to get our son out of the hospital and seek treatment elsewhere. We were surprised to find our wishes were irrelevant. The doctors at the hospital had to release him into our care. They had to be certain he was not a danger to himself or others. The problem was there was a rotating staff of doctors and counselors. It seemed to us, that no one knew our son’s typical behavior and they weren’t disturbed by the changed induced by the medication. We were horrified. Our online search of the medication showed the side effects could be permanent.
As the medications were adjusted we saw some improvement, but there was still a very serious problem with the meds. We decided to coach our son on the best way to get released. We wanted him home with us, so we could monitor his reaction to the changes in medication. After several weeks, he was released into our care and the endless battle against this disease began.
I’m sharing my experience as the mother of a son with mental illness to help you spot early signs of mental illness. I’ll share the resources I have found and the challenges I face. Perhaps it will help you or someone you know in their fight against mental illness. This disease effects all of us, if not in your immediate family, then as a society. It’s not going away. It’s time to open our eyes and truly see the beautiful faces behind mental illness.